What Steps Should Be Taken to Combat Superbugs in the Developing World?

By Christopher Metzger


Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), photo courtesy of Flickr user NIAID under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

What is antimicrobial resistance?

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) refers to the ability of microbes to grow in the presence of substances specifically designed to kill them, specifically antibiotics. Superbug is a non-scientific term used by the media to refer to a pathogenic bacterium that has developed an immunity to antibiotics. The annual economic costs of AMR and superbugs—measured in lost productivity—could be as large as that of the 2008 global financial crisis. Without a global containment effort, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be out of reach. In particular, goals 1 and 3—ending poverty, and achieving good health and well-being—will be unreachable by 2030. If containment efforts fail by 2050, more people will be dying from resistant bacteria than from cancer, as shown in Figure 1. The deaths and medical costs that would result from widespread drug-resistant bacteria could cost developing countries five percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) by 2050, yet the threat of superbugs is only just beginning to receive the international media attention that it deserves.

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Ebola, Bushmeat Prohibition, and Health Education

By Jing Jin and Caitlin Allmaier

According to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report, Ebola has claimed nearly 2300 lives across West Africa, marking the worst outbreak on record. While providing emergency food and health aid is necessary for managing the ongoing crisis, it is important to look forward and consider strategies for rebuilding affected communities. One key point of breakdown in understanding occurs at the juncture of cultural tradition and health education.  Traditional burial practices, gender roles, and food consumption have all contributed to the severity of the current Ebola outbreak.  As health professionals work on education and target behavioral change to reduce the risk of future Ebola outbreaks, there must be an understanding of existing social and cultural norms.

One cultural norm that has been pegged as a potential line of transmission for the current Ebola outbreak is the consumption of wild game, colloquially known as “bushmeat.”  Bushmeat is a term that covers everything from caterpillars to elephant meat, and is a traditional and relatively abundant source of low-cost protein in many parts of Central and West Africa. Ebola is thought to originate with fruit bats, and can be spread to other animals via direct contact, including humans.  The hunting, butchering, or eating of infected animals can result in infection.

Assorted bushmeat on the side of the road in Ghana

Bushmeat can transmit Ebola, but is a crucial source of protein across much of Africa

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